Alumni Profile: Daniel Baron

Daniel Baron

Year and degree of graduation: 
I received my BS in Plant Science in 1976 (V&E Department Citation for Outstanding Undergraduate Accomplishment) and completed my classwork for my MS in Horticulture in 1978.  I completed my thesis and received my MS in 1981.  My thesis advisors were Dr. Harold Olmo and biometeorologist Dr. Jerry Hatfield. My thesis topic was Microclimate and Wine Quality of Eleven Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyards of the Napa Valley in 1976. 

Current job title/company: 
Currently, I am the President (and lead janitor) of Daniel Baron Consulting, Co-owner and Co-winemaker of Baron Family Wine and a contract winemaker for Naked Wines where I make Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir under the Francophone and Ode labels, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from the UC Davis Oakville South Station dedicated to Dr. Harold Olmo and my father Harold Baron, called “Ode to Harold”. 

What have you been up to since you graduated? 
After graduation, I worked in Anderson Valley at Navarro Vineyards as vineyard manager and assistant winemaker for three vintages.  I worked in the Bordeaux region of France for two vintages, spending a year at Chateau Petrus in Pomerol in 1982.  Returning to the US in November 1982, I launched the Dominus Estate project for Christian Moueix and remained there through 1993 as General Manager.  In 1994 I moved to Silver Oak Cellars, where I remained until retirement in December 2016.  My final title was Director of Winemaking of Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars.  In 2017, I began making wine with my son Sam Baron, UC Davis BS 2012, making small-batch artisanal, single vineyard Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon under the Complant label.  In 2018 and 2019 I traveled to the Université de Bordeaux to get a Diploma in Pruning, which emphasized the physiological pruning developed in France and Italy in recent years. In conjunction with Naked Wines, I have been mentoring a Roots Fund Scholarship Recipient. In 2020, I launched a podcast, called “The Winemaker’s Journey”, in which I interview winemakers and viticulturists about how they develop their personal aesthetic and professional goals. 

Do you feel your UC Davis experience benefitted your career? 
My experience at UC, Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology is the basis for what I describe as my scientific approach to grapegrowing and winemaking.  I have found that understanding the scientific foundation of our vocation has given me a firm basis to make informed decisions throughout my career. 

What is the most rewarding part of being in the industry/your job? 
I have found my career in grapes and wine to be extremely rewarding in that one makes a product that embraces the cycles of the seasons and gives pleasure to those who consume it.  Another aspect of my career that is very rewarding is to mentor young professionals as I was so generously mentored by the people I studied with and worked with early in my career. 

What are some of the most difficult challenges you have faced in the grape or wine industry? 
When I was studying viticulture and enology, I thought that the challenges I would face would be of the technical sort, but in fact, those are comparatively manageable.  What I have found to be more of a challenge is learning to become a leader and not just a manager; how to inspire your subordinates and bring out their best qualities.  I have also found that managing a small capital-intensive business and bringing it to profitability is stressful and time-consuming and takes a completely different skill set than production.  I would advise current UCD V&E students to include financial and personnel management in their tool kit. 

How has the pandemic affected you? 
The pandemic of 2020 and 2021 has certainly been difficult for those of us trying to launch a small luxury wine brand, particularly with so many restaurants closed during that period.  On the other hand, it has provided opportunities for DTC wine companies like Naked Wines to prosper and I have been lucky to benefit from that.  I also think that those of us who work in agriculture had much less disruption to our daily lives than those who work in offices.  The various reactions to the pandemic and vaccination have underlined the importance of real science and the risks inherent in ignoring it. 

What is one unique thing about you? 
Something that some might find surprising about me is that I am an aspiring musician.  I play the mandolin, mandola, and clarinet.  I play popular music and I also play in a mandolin group based in Sebastopol, the Gravenstein Mandolin Ensemble.  My wife and I have been putting on a series of house concerts for the last five years.  Surprisingly, they have featured some of the best mandolin players in the world.